When I worked in industry, in the days of paper and pen, I was noted for having an untidy desk. But she knows where everything is they said… I knew that whatever it was I needed would be at my fingertip, provided I stirred the paper a bit. It wasn’t rocket science. In those days we wrote our reports on paper with pens and got someone in typing pool to type it up. In my case it involved a lot of correction fluid (they called me the Snopake Queen) scissors and glue, and bits sellotaped onto the bottom of pages. My reports were more like collage than copy. My handwriting wasn’t exactly copperplate either. Typists hated to get stuff from me. Word processors, however, were made for me.
Writing tools have an effect on the writing. A handwritten page is transformed when typed, not just by becoming legible as with my work, but it sounds different and punctuation doesn’t always seem to fit. I think that the typed page reads quicker. We read in longer chunks of text and don’t expect so many commas. Seldom do I receive handwritten letters nowadays. I have become used to reading typed words on paper and screen. I write for this mode.
When I write poetry by hand and type it up, my ‘machine mounted’ poems seem to need longer lines than in my notebook. When I write prose, I am more aware of the sound of it over the paragraph, and find I write it on the level of the word, line and paragraph simultaneously, possibly because I can type much faster than I can write by hand.
Word processors encourage fiddling with text. A finicky erstwhile colleague of mine was banned from the typing pool for breathing over the shoulders of the long suffering typists to make sure that they typed his reports without error. The same man, post word processor, would scrap 50 pages of paper (or entire reports) for the correction of a single letter, simply because it was so easy. Once upon a time, the odd mistake was expected, and corrective fluid (or a simple crossing out) was acceptable. I once saw some of Byron’s original notebooks. Lovely handwriting, but what a lot of crossing out!
With our clever machines, in an age where looks are everything, we are all for appearance and perhaps less about content. I won’t rant (beyond this paragraph) about grammar or the appalling mis-use of the apostrophe. I really don’t understand why the apostrophe should be so badly understood… Sometimes the hand-painted ‘menu’s’ displayed outside local hostelries push me towards apostrocide. I am tempted fill my handbag with sample pots of paint in different colours to covertly correct the signs. One of the funniest books I have read in recent years is ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’ by Lynn Truss. Her astringent wit made me laugh out loud. Of course, computers allow us to broadcast our mistakes, once confined to a scrap of paper, all over the office, the internet and out into the universe.
As an antidote to using Word, this little blog means that I try and write as naturally as possible, as if I was writing by hand. I will confess to making some changes as I keep on changing my mind as I write . This is a roundabout way to introduce a short story involving a pen that appears on the website of New Writing Cumbria.